Get out Your Own Way, it's Time to Stop the Self Sabotage

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Get out Your Own Way, it's Time to Stop the Self Sabotage


I asked you, our readers on our Instagram story what is stopping you from achieving your dreams, goals or highest version of you? To my surprise most of you answered with a form of self-sabotage, procrastination being at the top of the list. I quite honestly expected the answers to be linked to lack of money or lack of time. Since the responses where so many I felt compelled to dig deeper on the topic with a therapist so together we could find the answers to become a better version of us.

Some forms of self-sabotage can be: procrastination, quitting a goal when you’re close to achieving it, unhealthy relationships, negative thoughts about yourself and your abilities and addiction just to name a few. The thing about self-sabotage is that many times we aren’t aware that it is taking place and that’s what makes it so powerful. It is imperative to identify it in order to become aware and start working towards bettering ourselves. To help us, we contacted psychotherapist Zoë Aston. She specializes in addiction and trauma and has been a professional for 9 years. She is also the creator behind Your Mental Health Workout

First things first, why do we self-sabotage? 

Well, the why behind self-sabotage is a much bigger question than it first seems. Everyone has different and unique life experiences that might lead them to sabotaging themselves. The patterns are usually based on historical experiences and negative beliefs we have about ourselves but you might also sabotage yourself in less obvious ways when you are very good at something if you cannot see past a particular point. In my experience of working therapeutically on the topic I would say the main reasons people sabotage themselves are to do with self-esteem, a desire to feel in control and not become vulnerable or they are used to playing the scape goat.

What are the root causes of self-sabotage?

Experience tells me that root causes of self-sabotage can come from unhelpful experiences in childhood. Unhelpful experiences are classed as trauma in the therapy world. They get stored in our limbic system and many of the patterns we have as adults are based in what we learnt about ourselves as we were growing up.  So for example, if you learnt that you were the scape goat in your family (most commonly the second born child) you will be very familiar with placing yourself in that role. The scape goat role usually means that all problems start and end with you, you occupy the ‘problem’ space so that others do not have to take responsibility for their own issues. We tend to adopt roles like these in our families and in our early educational experiences because they actually help us survive. The roles ensure that you fit into the system you need to care for you and as children we will intuitively do anything to make sure that we are loved and cared for as our survival depends on it.  

As we get older the things we have done to ensure our survival can become self-defeating and evolve into a process of self-sabotage. So, going back to the scape goat example, when there comes an opportunity for that person to shine and grow they might become very uncomfortable and unable to adjust to a different way of thinking and feeling and therefore sabotage a potentially positive situation in order to feel comfortable again. You can also think of this process as a way of fending against vulnerability.

What are some pattern behaviors on self-sabotaging?

Usually I see people get to a particular point in their process and then loop back around as they become fearful of change and the idea that they could relate to themselves differently. I hear clients say things like ‘I am going in circles,’ ‘This is a waste of time,’ ‘I’m to broken, I can’t be fixed’ etc. That’s when I know we are up against their psychological edge and we can either take a leap of faith together or they might revert back to old behaviours if it feels too scary.  

I am big on taking people to have a look at their psychological edge a few times before we actually make the change. That way we really get an idea of the individual pattern and understand where it comes from, if any part of it is useful and how we want it to change.

I work a lot with addictions and eating disorders so the most common behavioural pattern I notice is people making huge changes in their lives, getting clean and soberer for example, and then when an opportunity comes along where they could really start to grow in to their self-esteem, their self-love they relapse or cross addict.  It’s usually a difficulty with self-appreciation that forfeits the opportunity to move past self-sabotaging behaviours. 

When it comes to relationships why do we self-sabotage by being attracted to the people we know aren’t healthy for us? How can we change that?

Right, this is a great question. As I’ve sort of been explaining, we are attracted to what we know. It is known as repetition compulsion; it is an attempt to resolve trauma (the stuff that left a bruise from your past). So you might find yourself compulsively attracted to a particular type of person, whether that be romantically, in friendships or any other type of relationship. You might have very intense emotions for them which you might call ‘a connection,’ it’s actually an attachment trauma.  

The good news is that you can work through this, work on your self-esteem and your craving for that intense connection and move on to choose who you are attracted to based on sound knowledge of who you are and what you need. 

What is the connection between procrastination and self-sabotage?

The connection I think is fear of not being good enough in some way. If we procrastinate we run out of time to really represent our true abilities and forfeit the opportunity to shine (whether that’s big or small) and by default then you have sabotaged your potential. Doing our best at something is vulnerable, it leaves us open to criticism not only about what we did but also about who we are and the effort we put in. If we don’t put any effort in or run out of time to do so no one can shame or criticize us, we become defended and invulnerable again. 

How can we identify and move forward from self-sabotaging behaviors?

I really believe that once you become conscious of a behaviour and take the time examine it you then have the power to change. If it feels impossible to change, you might be dealing with some trauma that needs to be addressed. I work with my clients to get to the place where they are able to choose how they want to behave rather than being driven my less conscious patterns. Once I get them there, it is their job to make the choice…I can’t do that bit.

Tell us about your mental health workout program:

YOUR MENTAL HEALTH WORKOUT was developed earlier this year and trialed on Instagram with great success. The ideas that these are workouts you can do at home for your mental health just like you would physical home workout.  You can see specific workouts on boundaries, self-esteem, OCD and much more on my Instagram page @the.mind.gym and check out the website  You can start it at any time, get a group of people together to give it a shot and hold each other accountable. And tag @the.mind.gym in any related posts, stories and videos, I love reposting and inspiring others. I will shortly be releasing a specific Mental Health Workout for Self-Sabotage so follow and stay tuned for that!

I know that coming to the realization that you might be self-sabotaging can be hard and even scary. Blaming others can be easier than holding ourselves accountable for our self-sabotaging behaviors. Just know you’re never alone, we have all self-sabotage in one way or another including myself. Once you create awareness you’ve taken the most important step towards the right direction. The second most important thing is to ask yourself lots of questions such as: “Why am I procrastinating? Why am I self-sabotaging? What am I trying to avoid?”. Asking yourself questions will often help guide you to the root causes of your behavior helping you gain clarity and allowing you to work on the areas that need it. The good news is we can all work on being better even when we fail at it, we can try over and over again. We are all a constant work of progress and we’ll be here if you need us along the way. 

A special thank you to Zoë for being kind and helping us answer some of our questions on the topic and just a quick reminder that our blogs and interviews on mental health are not meant to replace therapy but to inform you.